Our Name Means Something

Jan 15, 2023

Sermon 1-15-23
Baptism of our Lord
Text: Matthew 3:13-17
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     On January 1 we focused our attention in worship on names, not only the name of Jesus, which was the focus on the day, but our own names – why we were named what we were, what our names mean, whether or not we like our names. There was some spirited conversation, both during the Kinship Café and during 10:30 a.m. worship when discussion actually occurred during the sermon. It was an enjoyable topic because everyone could contribute to it – our names are important.
     If you were here, you may recall that I ended the sermon by saying that we all have been given a name that supersedes our other names – loved and forgiven child of God. That’s what today’s Gospel lesson reminds us is true; we have been given a name by God that means something.
     One of the commentators I read this week was telling how, when her brother was in high school, the football team on which he played never lost a game. In fact, that was the case for six years; the team won 49 games in a row. So, not only was the head coaches’ name a legend in that town, but so was her brother’s name, and many other players too. Even now, 60 years later, his name means something in that Kansas town.
     There are names that mean something in Akron, too, names like Patrick Carney, Hugh Downs, Harvey Firestone, Dick Goddard, Benjamin Goodrich, John Heisman, Chrissie Hynde, Lebron James, Frank Seiberling and Judy Resnick, and probably many more that did not come to mind. They all are people known for something they did.
     Today, though, as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, and remember our own baptisms, we recall that we are each given a name that means something, that speaks not to what we did, but to who we are - loved and forgiven children of God. That name, that identity is so important because the world tries to rename us, identifying us by our occupation, our appearance, our social status, our successes or failures, all of which describe us but do not define us. The name we receive at baptism – God’s loved and forgiven child - truly tells us who we are and whose we are.
     That was true of Jesus too. The familiar story of Jesus’ baptism has some interesting details. One is the fact that Jesus came to be baptized by John in the first place. John, the preparer of the way for Jesus, called for repentance in his fiery sermons; those who came to the Jordon to be baptized by him confessed and repented of their sins, in order to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah.
     When Jesus shows up, John is rightfully confused because #1, Jesus does not need to repent; #2, Jesus is superior to John and #3, Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah. Is it any wonder that John proclaims, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus’ response sounds somewhat vague to us, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” He means, basically, “Let’s do this John, it’s part of God’s plan to redeem the world.” So it is that Jesus, in a very tangible way, aligns himself with the people he came to save. And, he received tangible affirmation from God.
     We read that as he came up out of the water, the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Most scholars surmise that all this was only seen and heard by Jesus. The dove represents God’s Spirit and the message from God is clear: This one is mine, my Son. I love him. He pleases me. The Spirit is on him. Let his mission now begin. And so Jesus, thus assured, set out on his public ministry. His name meant something.
     We too receive the Spirit in baptism. We too are identified as beloved children of God. We too are the ones in whom and through whom God’s plan of righteousness is fulfilled. We are sent to live out our names, in a world that is marked by imperfection.
     As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day tomorrow, we recall that living out the name “God’s loved and forgiven child” was the foundation of the Civil Rights movement. Dr. King knew who and whose he was and reminded those who both supported and rejected him who and whose they were. Yet, that identity did not make life easy.
     Pastor Carla Pratt Keyes writes in a sermon that “for Dr. King, fear could rise like a flood. In one of his sermons, he talked about it, how after one particularly tense week during which King had been arrested and had received numerous threatening calls, he attended one of the bus protest meetings in Montgomery and addressed the group. He tried desperately to project an image of strength and courage, when deep down, King said, what he felt was fear and depression.
     Then an elderly woman – a woman affectionately called Mother Pollard – a poor and uneducated yet brilliant and wise woman – approached King and said, “Something is wrong with you. You didn’t talk strong tonight.” King denied it; he wanted to keep his fears to himself. But she said, “You can’t fool me. I knows something is wrong. Is it that we ain’t doing things to please you … or is it that the white folks is bothering you?” And before King could answer, she looked directly into his eyes and said, “I don told you we is with you all the way.” Then “with a countenance beaming with quiet certainty she concluded, ‘but even if we ain’t with you, God’s gonna take care of you.’” (1)
     That promise was in God’s words to Jesus on the day of his baptism and it is for all who are striving to live out the name – Loved and Forgiven Child of God. It does not mean that life will be free of challenge, but that we never face that challenge alone and will be strengthened to be who we are. Indeed, our name means something. AMEN
  1. “God’s Spirit … Like a Dove,” Matthew 3:13-17, by Carla Pratt Keyes, January 8, 2023, www. asermonforeverysunday.com